All you need to know about Indonesia's proposed bill criminalising sex outside marriage: New code could form legal basis for persecuting gay population

  • Over the past week, Indonesia has been convulsed with protests against a new criminal code that would outlaw sex outside marriage, among other things

  • Even though the new criminal code has been put on hold by President Joko Widodo, protests continue amidst fears that the bill may be revived later

  • Protestors have also been opposing a separate bill that they fear would weaken the country's main anti-corruption arm, known as the KPK

Over the past week, Indonesia has been convulsed with protests against a proposed new criminal code that would outlaw sex outside marriage, among other things, and against a separate bill that critics fear would weaken the country's main anti-corruption arm.

The protests took a violent turn on Tuesday, with the police firing tear tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters outside Indonesia's parliament and also at rock-throwing protesters in Makassar region on Sulawesi island.

In the face of public pressure, the new criminal code has now been put on hold by President Joko Widodo. However, demonstrations continue as protestors fear that the bill will be revived again.

 All you need to know about Indonesias proposed bill criminalising sex outside marriage: New code could form legal basis for persecuting gay population

Students run during a protest against new criminal code in Jakarta. AP

What does the bill say?

It includes a maximum one-year prison term for a couple who has sex outside of marriage and a maximum six-month prison term for unmarried couples who live together. Unmarried couples living together could also face a maximum fine of 10 million rupiah ($710), which is three months’ salary for many Indonesians.

However, a prosecution can only proceed if a village chief files a complaint, and parents or children of the accused do not object. Parents, children and spouses can also lodge a complaint.

Although the criminal code does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the criminalisation of sex out of wedlock and new obscenity laws have raised fears that new code could form a legal basis for persecuting gay population.

While it is only the proposed ban on sex outside marriage that has made grabbed headlines abroad, the protests in the country focus of many more of the 628 articles in the bill.

The bill also penalises people who criticize the president’s honour, teachers of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and women who have abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape and includes a prison term for the practitioners of black magic.

It gives local governments the right to introduce so-called “living laws” not covered in the penal code, including Sharia-inspired regulations such as the mandatory wearing of the hijab, or Islamic scarf.

Why is it being introduced?

Indonesia currently uses a version of the criminal code drawn up by Dutch colonists, which took effect in 1918. There has been discussion on changing it since the country achieved independence in the 1940s.

Widodo first brought it to parliament in 2015. Initial attempts to revise it collapsed, but it gained traction after this year’s general election with the terms of current MPs due to expire this month.

A parliamentary vote had been expected this week, but Widodo put it on hold for further discussion in the face of public pressure and as the possible ban on sex-outside of marriage sent a scare through the tourism industry.

Who opposes the bill?

It is not entirely clear-cut, in that some people support some aspects of the bill but oppose others.

Rights groups say that it is an affront to basic human rights. Many opponents of the bill say that it deepens conservative Islamic influence in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, which nonetheless has substantial Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities. Opponents also argue that it reverses liberal reforms enacted after democracy was restored in 1998, when strongman leader Suharto stepped down.

Critics say some articles were rushed and that implementation is unclear.

An online petition calling for the bill to be scrapped garnered half a million signatures and  hundreds of thousands have also taken to social media to vent their frustration.

Who supports it?

The bill has the support of some Islamic groups in a country where conservatism has been on the rise. One group, Nahdlatul Ulama, said the revisions reflect “the character and the personality of the Indonesian people and the nation”.

Several religious-based parties have endorsed the more conservative elements of the bill, seen as likely to appeal to their constituents.

Some conservative groups want to seize on the momentum to promote stricter interpretations of Islam in the legal system. One advocate last week said she wanted the bill strengthened to specifically outlaw all expressions of homosexuality.

What would it mean for the economy?

The ban on sex outside marriage is a big concern for the tourist industry. Australia already warned visitors to Bali of the risk they could face from extra-marital or gay sex should the law be passed.

However, officials have pointed out that prosecutions of foreigners under the bill - even as it stands - are unlikely. There has to be not only proof that sex outside marriage happened, but also a complaint from a family member.

What happens next?

Parliament had been due to vote on the bill on Tuesday and a vote could still take place before the end of the month.

However, Widodo has said the bill should be delayed until the new parliament is in place and in order to get more input on “what the people want”. That means it could delayed for a long period or even indefinitely.

What are the other points of contention?

Protestors are also angry over the passing of a separate law that has weakened the investigative powers of the corruption-fighting agency — known as the KPK . Widodo, however, has stood firm on plans to pass the  bill that critics fear would dilute the KPK's powers, including its ability to wire-tap suspects.

"We're going to parliament to oppose the new law for the anti-corruption agency that are not pro-people but are pro-corruptors," Fuad Wahyudin, 21-year-old student from an Islamic university in West Java, told Reuters.

With inputs from agencies

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

Updated Date: Sep 25, 2019 19:07:00 IST